The parliamentary investigation into the savings bank scandal has virtually ended without uncovering anything about the massive irregularities at the suspended banks. The outcome is disappointing, to say the least, and all the more so given the prosecution’s failure to answer a host of questions regarding the banks’ offering of trillions of won in illegal loans.
The ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party set up a special parliamentary committee in late June, pledging to get to the bottom of the scandal. But the lawmakers on the panel have thus far spent most of their time quarreling over witnesses. The panel has several more days left before its 45-day term ends on Aug. 12, but it has not much to do as the two-day hearings slated for Aug. 10 and 11 have been canceled.
The reason for the cancellation was the lawmakers’ inability to agree on the selection of witnesses. For the hearing to proceed as planned, they should have reached an accord on witnesses by last Thursday. The relevant law requires that a witness be given at least one week’s prior notice. But they refused to compromise, thus blowing the chance to hear testimony from key witnesses.
The intransigence the rival parties have shown regarding the witness issue leaves many suspicious of their real intentions. One theory suggests that the parties were from the beginning not interested in lifting the veil. Rather, their real intention was to put pressure on the prosecution not to dig up dirt on their lawmakers. It is widely believed that lawmakers, especially those elected from provinces, have close ties with the savings banks based in their regions.
As if to give credence to the theory, the prosecution has been far from enthusiastic about its investigation into the scandal. In March, it launched a 200-member special investigation team, including more than 60 prosecutors of the Central Investigation Unit of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. The CID said it would put to rest the controversies over its existence by investigating the case thoroughly, leaving no doubt whatsoever.
But nothing much has since come out of its investigation, especially regarding the alleged ties between lawmakers and savings banks. So much so that President Lee Myung-bak recently complained about the prosecution’s lackluster probe. Referring to Park Tae-gyu, a key lobbyist for Busan Savings Bank who has escaped to Canada, Lee asked his aides, “Which is the case ― Is the prosecution really unable to bring him here or is it just unwilling to do so?”
As neither lawmakers nor prosecutors can be relied upon, the only option left is to have an independent counsel with full investigative power look into the case. Lee also suggested his endorsement of the idea. But the power to appoint an independent counsel is in the hands of the National Assembly. Given the lawmakers’ apparent reluctance to go deeper into the scandal, it may be necessary to mobilize public pressure on them to pursue the option.